Sharing the wealth: tourism grants to fund suite of latest recreation facilities | Information

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This July was Christmas for the five lucky winners of a grant contest sponsored by the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.

The tourism board has spent $500,000 on special projects across the county, including greenways, hiking trails, an overlook and a children’s bike park. TDA has put the pot of money aside thanks to incredible tourism gains over the past two years that have meant a fluke in room tax revenue.

The goal of the funding was twofold: to improve the visitor experience while creating quality of life for locals.

“It’s exciting. What an opportunity to support so many cool things that are happening in the county,” said Kelsey Baker, owner of Boojum Brewing and a member of the TDA Board of Directors. “Many of which will benefit even more local people come as the tourist.”

Outdoor recreation was a recurring theme among the winning projects. It’s rare that a suite comes with so many new amenities in one fell swoop. The projects offer easy-to-reach, near-town recreation opportunities that are lacking despite Haywood being surrounded by an outdoor mecca.

“People want to get out, but don’t always want to drive 30 minutes to get to the Parkway or the Smokies,” Baker said.

The winning projects included:

• Greenway extension connecting Waynesville Rec Park to Russ Avenue;

• a children’s bike park and pump track on the Old Asheville Highway in Waynesville;

• Viewing trail at Lake Junaluska;

• a new two-mile trail on the Haywood Community College campus;

• More parking for the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.

TDA already allocates 25% of its budget each year to grants ranging from fireworks and Fourth of July festivals to Christmas lights and art murals. However, this particular funding round was aimed specifically at capital projects.

“This was a one-time product fund, but I am confident that we can continue to do so in the future,” said Chris Corbin, TDA chairman and manager of Waynesville Inn and Golf Resorts. “We all know that the county needs more products for tourists, but the projects will benefit everyone.”

Being “shovel ready” was one of the award criteria. The projects represent a total investment of US$1 million given the 50:50 funding required by the local government agency behind the project.

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The TDA was only able to finance half of the funding applications received. Deciding on the winners was a challenge, said Colleen Davis, TDA board member and downtown Waynesville business owner.

“We wanted to give everyone what they asked for because they were such good requests,” Davis said.

The selection committee used a scoring rubric to rank each project based on a variety of criteria.

“We wanted to make sure we were funding the ones with the best results,” said Ben Wilder, associate director of TDA, who developed the rubric. “Anytime you give away money that multiple people are applying for, you want to make sure you’re doing it right.”

The quantifiable assessment process also allows the TDA to provide feedback to those who didn’t make it where their application fell short, Wilder said.

“I know we haven’t been able to fund all of them, but hopefully this is a good first step,” Corbin said.

A five-person committee was tasked with making the decision. It included two TDA members and three community members: Pratik Shah, hotelier in Waynesville; Kevin Fitzgerald, District Recreation Committee Chair; Jake Robinson of Champion Credit Union in Canton; plus Baker and Davis from the TDA.

The winning projects• Waynesville Greenway Extension

Waynesville was awarded $88,000 for a greenway expansion project that would connect the current terminus of the greenway, which runs through Waynesville Rec Park, to Russ Avenue.

It will flank Richland Creek through the site of the former BI-LO grocery store, currently under construction as an apartment complex. The developers transferred the creek frontage to the city to use for a greenway, parking space, and fishing access.

The new segment is a linchpin to ultimately connect the greenway to downtown. A road project on Russ Avenue planned for next year will include a multi-use path leading down to the new greenway segment and a crosswalk over Russ that will set the stage for the greenway that will one day lead to Frog Level .

• Bike Park and pump track

Haywood County was awarded $150,000 to build a children’s bike park on 19 vacant acres adjacent to the county’s old landfill on the Old Asheville Highway between Waynesville and Lowe’s.

The centerpiece would be a so-called “pump track”, a circuit with hollows and berms that are fun – like a skate park, but for bicycles. The project also includes a mountain bike skill course for children, a circular hiking trail, an adventure playground and picnic areas.

The pump track would be of regulation caliber and would allow the county to host competitions at the national pump track racetrack, which draws a few thousand people.

The 19-acre site was acquired by the county as an environmental buffer around the old landfill.

“We’re excited to turn some lemons into lemonade,” said David Francis, the county’s director of special projects.

District commissioners have provided $520,000 in appropriate funding. The county is awaiting an additional $500,000 in federal recovery aid.

• A view and path by Lake Junaluska

Lake Junaluska received $100,000 for a paved pathway connecting the Terrace Hotel with the Susanna Wesley Garden and new event facilities, including a gazebo overlooking the lake.

The project complements an initiative to convert the former World Methodist Museum into a banquet hall and venue that can accommodate up to 450 people, made possible by a private donation.

The path was a missing piece of the puzzle to make the new events center more accessible.

“This benefits the district as a whole as the largest facility we currently have for banquets of any type holds about 150 people,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the TDA.

Meanwhile, the lookout will provide a new vantage point for those walking the lake to detour up the Rose Walk for coveted photos.

Haywood Community College received $66,000 for a two-mile trail that winds through the campus woods. HCC already had a two-mile campus walkway that will connect to the new path and create a four-mile loop around the entire campus.

The new segment will circle the outer periphery of the campus through wooded terrain. Educational signage with QR codes provides information about trees and ecology.

Appropriate funding for the project includes $15,000 from the HCC Foundation.

Maggie Valley Festival Grounds car park

Maggie Valley was awarded $96,000 to convert a 1-acre lot across from the festival site into an overflow parking lot. The city bought the property last year for $185,000.

The festival site is one of the most important venues in the district. In 2022, 21 festivals will be held there, attracting tens of thousands of visitors and locals alike. However, there are currently too few parking spaces.

The car park will have 90 spaces and will be connected to the festival site across the street via an extended zebra crossing and a green pedestrian island. The total cost of the project is $250,000, with the rest coming from the city.